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Antidepressant Abuse and Addiction 

Antidepressant addiction differs from addictions to alcohol, opioids, or illicit drugs.  Individuals who abuse antidepressants won’t experience the intense cravings that are produced by other drugs.  Instead, they may experience several unpleasant symptoms if the drug is discontinued.  As a result of the symptoms, a person will seek more of the drug and a problematic cycle begins.

“Studies show that about two-thirds of antidepressant prescriptions are unnecessary.  For instance, many people are misdiagnosed with depression.  As such, pills are prescribed that are unneeded and can adversely alter their lives in many ways.”  

Recent reports claim that more than 37 million Americans take antidepressants.   During the COVID-19 lockdowns, there was a 20% increase in prescriptions filled for antidepressants.  In 2020 alone, global antidepressant profits soared to $26.25 billion.  Does this mean people are more depressed than ever before?  

What Causes Depression?

Everyone feels down or sad sometimes.  But, if a person feels like this most of the time, they may have clinical depression.  Depression can be the result of many factors in a person’s life.  The factors can be the result of traumatic events or chemical changes in the brain.  

The most common forms of depression are:

  • Major Depressive Disorder 
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Psychotic Depression
  • Postpartum Depression
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
  • Situational Depression
  • Treatment-Resistant Depression

Each form of depression has unique characteristics that require different approaches to treatment.  However, treatment usually involves a combination of medication and counseling.

What are Antidepressants?

The most common forms of antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).  This class of drugs is prescribed to treat moderate to severe depression.  The drugs are also used to treat Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders (OCD) and anxiety disorders.  

“Antidepressants work by changing serotonin levels in the brain.  Serotonin is a chemical that regulates mood and feelings of happiness or well being.  It also has an impact on sleeping, eating, and digestion.”

The most widely prescribed antidepressants are:

  • Celexa (Citalopram)
  • Lexapro (Escitalopram)
  • Prozac (Fluoxetine)
  • Paxil (Paroxetine)
  • Zoloft (Sertraline)
  • Effexor (Venlafaxine)

Antidepressants are considered safe when used as directed.  However, combining an antidepressant with other drugs can be dangerous.  For instance, taking antidepressants with migraine medication or opioids can cause serotonin syndrome which can be dangerous or even deadly.

Combining antidepressants with other substances such as alcohol can cause severe mental or physical problems such as:

  • Intense sedation
  • High blood pressure
  • Worsened anxiety or depression
  • Impaired coordination
  • Overdose

Besides alcohol, some people combine antidepressants with opioids or marijuana.  Also, individuals who are already struggling with addictions to other substances are more likely to abuse antidepressants.

A Brief History of Antidepressants

The first antidepressant drugs were introduced in the 1950s. One was iproniazid, which had been used previously to treat tuberculosis.  Physicians noticed some patients experienced euphoria, stimulation, increased appetite, and improved sleep.  The patients were improving physically and mentally.

The other drug introduced in the 1950s was imipramine which was the first drug in the tricyclic antidepressant family.  Both drugs contributed to the development of psychiatry regarding the care of depressive patients.  This drug also produced many of the effects patients experienced with iproniazid.  

In the 1960s, a pharmaceutical company took the lead on serotonin research.  Later, they published a report on a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor drug called LY110140, or fluoxetine.  Fluoxetine was approved by the FDA in 1987.  It is still one of the most recognized antidepressants on the market.  Fluoxetine (SSRIs) revolutionized depression therapy and paved the way for a whole new family of antidepressants.   

From that point in history, prescriptions for antidepressants have steadily increased year after year.  For instance, in 2008, more than 36 million prescriptions were filled.  Ten years later, in 2018, more than 70.9 million prescriptions were given.  More than 15.5 million people have been taking antidepressants for at least five years.  

Are Antidepressants Addictive?

Antidepressants are not considered to be addictive in the traditional sense.  However, the drugs can cause a physical dependence that may be difficult to overcome.  Withdrawal symptoms may be experienced when the drug is stopped or reduced.  To relieve their discomfort, a person will seek more of the drug.  The symptoms can include hand tremors, nausea, or depression.

Most individuals who are dependent on antidepressants are able to continue their daily responsibilities.  They don’t generally engage in dangerous behaviors or experience intense cravings for the drug.  

“Some people snort antidepressants to try and achieve a euphoric effect.  But, the results are often disappointing.  Antidepressants won’t produce the dopamine rush they seek.”

With proper use, antidepressants can help people function better.  The are most effective for treating moderate to severe depression.  Individuals with mild depression are advised to seek counseling or other treatment methods.  This recommendation is due to the limited effectiveness of antidepressants in treating mild depression. Potential side effects are another consideration.  Like any other prescription drug, misuse or abuse of antidepressants can cause consequences.  

Misuse refers to someone increasing their dosage when they feel the drug isn’t working as well as it should.  This effect happens because antidepressants don’t produce immediate effects.   Generally, it takes about four to six weeks before the drug starts working.  

Abuse refers to deliberate misuse to amplify the medicine’s effects or try to achieve a stimulant-like high.  Some people combine antidepressants with alcohol or other drugs to get this effect.  This behavior can be dangerous because antidepressant abuse can lead to seizures or overdose.

Antidepressant Addiction vs. Dependence

As with other drugs, there is a difference between antidepressant addiction and dependence.  The terms are often used interchangeably, so it is important to know the distinctions between the two.  

Antidepressant dependence refers to a state of adaptation that results from regular use of the medication.  The person using the drug can experience uncomfortable side effects if the drug is withheld.  

Antidepressant Addiction is a chronic, neurobiological disease that involves genetic, environmental, and psychosocial factors.  A person who is addicted to a substance can’t control compulsive drug use despite the negative consequences.  

“Antidepressant addiction is treatable using evidence-based, multidisciplinary approaches.  However, relapse is not uncommon.”

Unfortunately, many people believe the drugs are safe because they were prescribed by a physician.  With that mindset, they are often too careless about the amount ingested. 

Signs of Antidepressant Overdose

When antidepressants are misused, abused, or combined with other substances the risk of overdose is high.  For that reason, anyone using these drugs should be aware of the overdose signs.  The signs can include any or all of the following:

  • Dizziness, fainting
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • High blood pressure
  • Impaired coordination
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Shaking, tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Trouble breathing
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Convulsions, seizures
  • Coma

Antidepressants rank in third place on the list of most common poisonings in the US.  So, if someone believes their antidepressant isn’t producing the desired effect, they should consult with a physician.  It is not advisable to increase the dosage without professional supervision due to the risks involved.  

Antidepressant Addiction Statistics


The percentage of people over age 12 who took antidepressants in the past month.


Percentage of increase in the number of people using antidepressants since 1999.


Percentage of increase in antidepressant prescriptions during COVID-19 crisis. 

*American Psychological Association (APA).  By the Numbers: Antidepressant Use on the Rise

Get Help for Antidepressant Addiction at Cycles of Change Recovery

Anyone who is struggling to control their antidepressant use or abuse should not quit suddenly.  As the medication leaves the body, the symptoms of depression can return.  Some people even have suicidal thoughts when the drug is discontinued.  For that reason, you should seek professional treatment at Cycles of Change Recovery if you want to overcome addiction safely and effectively.  

Our program is designed to address addictions to any substance. We realize that no two people respond to treatment in the same way.  So, we will assess your situation and design a treatment approach specifically for your needs.  

When you enter our facility in beautiful Palmdale, CA, you’ll enjoy a comforting, secure environment where you can relax and focus on healing.  Our team of skilled and compassionate addiction specialists will make sure all of your needs are met during your time in our program.  We are a fully licensed and JCAHO accredited facility.  Only the best treatment facilities are allowed this honorable accreditation.  

If you would like to overcome antidepressant addiction or addiction to any other substance, contact us today to learn how we can help you achieve that goal.  



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